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Teachings of the Spirit.

 

By President Asa Mahan.

 

From The Oberlin Evangelist November 8 & 22, 1843. Vol. V. No. 23 & 24.

Reported for the Evangelist by E. Tucker.

 

And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13.

 

Howbeit, when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak, and He will show you things to come. John 16:13.

 

Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. John 13:7.

 

Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come to you, searching what or what manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, which testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which things the angels desire to look into. 1 Peter 1:10, 11, 12.

 

I remark, also, that the prophets are described in the passage from Peter, as occupied with the utmost diligence in searching out two questions.

First, What these glorious things were which the spirit spake through them.

Second, What was the time when these wonders and that glory were to transpire. ‘What and what manner of time the spirit which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.’ The prophets were searching most earnestly to obtain an answer to these two questions.

I shall not spend time to explain the passages above cited, except as shall be convenient and proper in the progress of the discourse.

Before I take up the main topic of my discourse, the nature and extent of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, it will be necessary to make some

 

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS.

 

1. We read in the Bible, that man was ‘made in the image of God.’ This declaration has been understood in two senses. Some have understood it to mean, that man was created originally with a holy character—that he was like God in that he was created holy as God is holy. This cannot be the true sense, since the apostle James declares that men are now made in God’s image. ‘Therewith bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men who are made after the similitude of God.’ (James 3:9.) And again, 1 Corinthians 11:7, ‘he, [the husband,] is the image and glory of God.’ Others have understood it thus. The laws and susceptibilities of the human, are copied after those of the divine mind, so that man is capable of knowing the things which God knows, and of resembling Him in his character. This I suppose to be the true meaning.

2. But while man can thus know the objects of God’s knowledge, and feel and act in view of his knowledge as God does, yet in one important view the human mind differs essentially from the divine. God’s mind, all his powers, are incapable both of increase or diminution—his knowledge, his powers, his wisdom, his goodness, remain for ever the same. To eternity, they can never be either greater or less than they have been from eternity. They are all infinite.

On the other hand, man is capable of endless progression, in the developement of all his faculties. This is the law governing all the powers of the soul. Our intellect is capable of endless growth. Our knowledge can for ever increase. Our susceptibilities are capable of eternal expansion.

3. Progress is a fundamental and perpetual demand of human nature. We are so made, that if our powers do not advance in constant growth, we are wretched of necessity. A given amount is not enough. We may be satisfied with that now, but when that point is gained, our being cries out for new knowledge, for higher and more perfect views. We must continue to enlarge our sphere, to expand our powers, though everlasting duration. If, at any stage of its progress, the mind should cease to grow, it would cease to be blessed, from the very nature of its constitution.

4. But farther. The mind grows only by exercise. This is a universal law of life, a principle operating every where. How does the physical system become strong and vigorous? By exercise. In what manner does a parent develop the physical capabilities of his child? By placing him where he must exert the strength he does possess, put forth vigorous efforts in the use of his limbs, grapple with weights as heavy as his arms can support, perhaps often by having him attempt what at present his strength is partially unequal to. Thus the physical powers are strengthened and perfected. So with mind. The intellect must grapple with the great questions of truth. In this way only can it gain that might which it is its privilege to wield. If a mind were placed in circumstances where it should gain its knowledge without exertion, it would never grow—its condition would be like that of a child, as to his physical powers, whose wants should be supplied without any movement on his part. Such a child could never have bodily strength. It would be weak and powerless. So with the mind. If knowledge should be communicated to it, with no exertion on its part, if no great problems were submitted to it to be solved, no grand demonstrations to be elaborated, it could not grow.

5. But while it is true, that strong and vigorous effort is necessary to the perfection of mind, it is equally true that the mind, at every stage of its progress, needs to know some things with infallible certainty. There are some truths which it should know without possibility of mistake. Those truths which pertain to duty, the great rule which shall govern it in all its actions, these must be known with infallible certainty. Its eternal destiny is suspended here. Shall the mind not know what is duty? Shall a line be marked, and the man required, on pain of death eternal, to pursue it, without the possibility of knowing the line? nay, without the ability to know it with infallible certainty? Surely not. It must know the rule of duty, and that without the possibility of mistake. And more than this.

It is needful also, to possess all knowledge requisite to one’s highest well-being—and greatest usefulness. These must be known with infallible certainty.

6. We are now prepared to contemplate the most perfect system of divine administration of which the mind can conceive, that best adapted to secure the perfection and highest blessedness of created intelligences. Three different and opposite systems present themselves to our contemplation.

Under the first, all knowledge, a thing certainly possible with God, would be communicated to the mind, without any effort on our part, and communicated with no mixture of error. This system, as you perceive, is wholly unadapted to the growth, maturing, and, of course, to the perfection and blessedness of the soul.

The second is that in which the mind would be necessitated to labor somewhat for the acquisition of knowledge; but when this one condition is fulfilled, all knowledge should be communicated without the possibility of mistake on any subject. While this system possesses certain advantages, it labors under the most manifest and fatal defects. Under its influence, the mind would be freed entirely from the necessity of reviewing the ground already passed over, for the purpose of discovering and correcting errors, and exercise most favorable to mental developement, and which, of all others tends most effectually to impress deeply and indelibly the truth upon the mind. This system, also, is unadapted to our social nature. It renders each mind independent of all others. All comparison of opinions, every thing in the form of discussion, is entirely superseded. It is when, and, I had almost said, only when, mind grapples with mind, on the arena of thought, in the discussion of the great problems of universal, eternal, and immutable truth, that the mental powers grow up into vigorous manhood.

The third system is that in which every thing pertaining to duty, every thing necessary to our highest usefulness and well-being, shall be taught with infallible certainty; while in reference to all other things, we shall be left to search out the truth, and shall be required to do it in the exercise of our own powers and faculties—not indeed without any help at all, but in such circumstances, that, in respect to things not absolutely essential, we shall be always liable to error. Now I suppose this to be the most perfect system possible, for the perfection of intelligent natures. All the true interests are perfectly secured; all those principles which are fundamental to the action of the mind, all the knowledge necessary to perfect and enduring blessedness, revealed to the soul with a certainty which cannot be shaken. Then for the strengthening and maturing the faculties, enlarging the sphere of usefulness and enjoyment, and the capability of exertion and of happiness, great problems are thrown out to be grappled with—problems, in the solution, or attempted solution of which, a constant and perpetual increase shall be secured, of all the capabilities of our being. Such a system we should judge, knowing what we do of the nature of the human constitution, to be best adapted to its necessities and developement, to its most perfect and permanent blessedness.

7. Now suppose that God were to send his enlightening Spirit to dwell in the hearts of men for the purpose of teaching them; what might He be expected to do? Under the first two systems, He would be required to bring all knowledge to the mind, with no effort whatever on its part, or when the mind had made certain efforts, to enlighten it to such a degree, as to render it, on all subjects alike, infallible. While each of these systems has its advantages, they are, as we have seen, most unfavorable to the growth, maturity, and perfection of mind.

Under the one last named, upon the question of duty, and in respect to all truths, a knowledge of which is indispensable to our highest usefulness and well-being, the teachings of the Spirit, when his divine illumination is sought, in the manner, and with the state of mind required, would be unequivocally clear, and infallibly certain. On these questions, no possibility of delusion would be left to the honest and truthful heart; while in other directions, great problems would be thrown upon the mind to be solved, without the promise of such infallible guidance. In their solution He would consent to help us more or less, as infinite wisdom should see to be best, but would yet leave us to find them out ourselves, in the appropriate exercise of our own powers.

On this system, God would give us his pledge, that if we shall be only honest hearted, confiding, and active, we shall never be deceived on any subject, so as to injure our happiness or endanger our safety, and then point out great problems, in ourselves, in the Bible, in his providence, and in the universe upon which to exercise our faculties to their utmost stretch, problems so great and extensive as continually to open and unfold before our minds, and forever to occupy our expanding powers, and keep up an endless increase in knowledge, holiness, and bliss.

On the fist systems, we should be infallibly taught on all subjects, but we could never grow. Our minds would never be duly exercised, and would never increase in strength. On the one last named we should be taught infallibly as to our duty, and so much as to secure complete, and perfect blessedness, and the highest usefulness, but as to the great problems of matter and of mind, left always to a greater or less extent liable to error. Now the question which I wish to present to your minds is this. Under which of these supposed systems are we actually placed? In conformity to which system are we to expect the teachings of the spirit? This brings me to the main topic of this discourse, and opens the way for a statement of the position which I shall endeavor to establish, which is this:

On all subjects necessary to salvation, to our highest usefulness, holiness, and peace, we can have absolutely infallible guidance. On all other subjects great problems are thrown upon our minds, which we are required to attempt to solve, without the promise of such infallible guidance.

This I shall prove to be the actual condition of man by a reference to undeniable facts.

1. Contemplate the heavens above, the movements and splendor of the celestial orbs. We turn to the Psalms, and find, that thousands of years ago, in the youth of mankind, man under the influence and teaching of God’s Spirit, looked upon the heavens with this sentiment. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his hand work, day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.’ Now it was indispensable to his highest blessedness and holiness, that he should be brought into such a relation to the heavens as this, that he should know, that the fact should be visible, should be an ever present reality to his should, that in the heavens the glory of God shines forth. Thus far, then, he was taught. In this knowledge he could not be mistaken. Of this fact he was absolutely certain. And this every person may be taught as David was, may be instructed to behold God in the heavens, his wisdom in every part of the expanse, his goodness and love in every star. But now mark. There are great and intricate problems about the heavens, that God has thrown upon the mind without the promise of supernatural and infallible guidance in their solution. What are these stars? What laws govern their movements? What is the mechanism of the heavens? At these we must labor, with a continual liability to err. Good men, in all ages, have wrought in the solution of these problems, and have always, to a greater or less extent failed; for it is scarcely two centuries since the true mechanism of the heavenly bodies was found out, since the great chain which binds the universe of worlds, in one harmonious round, was brought forth from the mystery of all former ages since the creation. Now, why did not God reveal it at first? God did not do that. Why not? Or why was not the relation made at some time with infallible certainty? Because it was better men should labor at it, try it over, and over, and over, continue to fail, be in error thousands of years, but by and by to work it out. He saw it best, and He left man so, left him without guidance here, yet necessitated him to work at the celestial problems, to attempt them over and over, to continue to toil at them, though for long ages above his strength.

2. Look next at the earth. God made the Psalmist sensible, thousands of years ago, that the earth is full of the goodness of God—full of it, that all the changes thereof, every thing that exists, manifests the goodness of God. He could be sensible of that—He knew it. It was a reality to his soul. And the Holy Spirit can and will make that a living omni-present reality to every honest mind, so that God shall be present as infinitely good in every thing. ‘Though the earth be removed, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, though the fig tree blossom not, nor fruit be in the vines, the labor of the olive fail, the fields yield no meat, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls,’ yet the Spirit of God in the soul, will make every such man, as He did the prophet of old, ‘rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of his salvation.’ He will make the heart of the trustful perpetually sensible that the earth is full of his goodness, full of God’s wisdom and love. This, God will do, because this sense of his love is absolutely essential to happiness. But suppose a man should ask—How can all this work out the great ends of benevolence? God says—Find that out yourself. They will infallibly do it. I can make you sensible of the fact, can give you a certain assurance of that truth. But you must work out the problem yourself. Search the laws of my universe, the tendencies, the results of things on the whole, and by and by you will see; the problem will open, and burst upon you in all its glory. There are many mysteries in the providence of God, in the arrangement of things on the earth. Volcanoes heave their might fires. Hurricanes and earthquakes desolate the earth. Animals devour each other. Misery meets us every where. Now how is it that from all this the love and glory of God is to come forth? God says, that you must find out yourself. That is the problem I give you to solve. I shall not reveal that to you. If you will look to me, I will give you such a manifestation of my presence and love, that it shall be a living reality to you, that I am good in all things; so that you shall rest in the fullest peace upon my bosom, with the most absolute assurance of my eternal and boundless love. God is ready by his Spirit to bring every honest mind into that state.

3. In the moral world, too, the same darkness hangs over the divine administration. Voltaire appears, and begins to spread his poisonous influence through the earth. Myriads are ruined by his teachings. He lives on, and eighty years alone suffice to measure his life, and send him to the grave. Spencer is born, he begins to speak as if his lips were touched with seraphic fire. He utters forth a few strains, sweet as the music of the angels, and dies. O, why did Voltaire live so long, and Spencer die so soon? Does God rule the world in love? Yes, and God’s Spirit will make us, if we are honest and trustful, sensible of it in the fullest degree. But if we ask how?—If we go and ask God, bearing even on our lips that promise, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him,’ our heavenly Father will reply—You must search that out yourself. I shall not reveal it. I will show myself to your heart, and ravish it, and assure you of all my benevolence. But it is not best for me to tell you how. Watch the movements of Providence, and see how these things work and result, and by and by you will be able to cry, “Ah, now I see it, I see it now. I see how God brings good out of that evil.” God has thrown these mysteries before us, because it is wisest and best that we should exercise our powers in the solution of the glorious problems of his universe.

4. Look now, at the human mind. As we contemplate, some things we all know—That we are free agents, that we are accountable, that we are immortal, that we are created; these we need to know at all times and in every stage, and these we may know and know infallibly. But there are, far down in the depths of the mind, mysteries unrevealed. Unfathomed distance lies beneath every plummets sounding. These secrets need to be read. These jewels need to be brought up from the deep ocean. And God has kept the mind laboring incessantly for ages upon the great mental problems, for their solution, but thus far, even, with only partial success. Why did not God bring them out to the light at first, or make them infallibly sure at some time in man’s progress? Suppose He had thus revealed them, it might have been good, perhaps; for knowledge is good. But it would not have been so good as the very labor itself of the solution would be, to the maturing of the mind, and the perfection of its faculties. There is the good—the good resulting from labor, just as labor is good to a child. God bids mind to go down to those depths, to descend and fathom those wells, to dig down the profound deep of those precious mines, and bring up those invaluable gems, to dive into those ocean caves, and raise to the surface the pearls hidden there. He says, I will help you, give you opportunity and advantage, but no infallible guidance—you shall be liable to mistake. Exercise your powers with diligence, yet with great candor, and caution.

5. Once more. The word of God presents a most striking illustration of the great truth which I am endeavoring to establish.

(1.) In the first place—When we contemplate its general features, the fact strikes us a once, that its great practical truths lie on the surface. There is a highway cast up through the Bible, ‘In which a way-faring man though a fool need not err.’ In the rule of duty, the truths necessary to the perfect and highest blessedness of the soul, and its entire holiness, no man need err, and no honest mind does err. A little child can find the path. But suppose a man asks—Have we not a system of divinity in the Bible? Would it not be well to have a thoroughly digested system of the doctrines and duties of religion? Yes, it would be well. But God has given us the Bible, and his Providence, and our own reason, and thus left us to find out the system. “But we are liable to be deceived.” Yes, “Give us infallible guidance.” No; God says, work it out, dig, labor, toil, and in the very labor, and toil, you will grow, your minds will expand, and be prepared to apprehend the higher mysteries of my kingdom. I give you no infallible guidance here. I throw upon you the responsibility of attempting the solution, of finding out and arranging the grand system of truth. God looks on our work, and sees the mistakes into which we fall. He looks on with a parent’s eye, and He would like to correct our errors. But He sees that to secure us against error, by removing the necessity of labor, and thus prevent the continued growth of the mind, would be far worse than to permit our falling into numberless mistakes in the prosecution of our work.

(2.) Again, look at the nature of the lessons taught by Christ when He was on earth. It was, for example, a great mystery to the disciples, when they sat around the table and listened to his words, He arose, girded Himself with a towel, and proceeded to wash their feet. Peter exclaimed—‘Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?’ ‘What I do,’ says Christ, ‘thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.’ I cannot tell you the reason now, you must have confidence in me, you must believe that there is a reason, and that must satisfy you. Thus He left it. He gave them no explanation of his conduct, but left them to study and learn the lesson as they were able.

(3.) Again, the revelation of the coming of Christ to the prophets, was only partial. The Spirit told them of a glorious consummation—‘To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be Wonderful, Counsellor, the might God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ A glorious Messiah! And then his kingdom, ‘Of the increase of his government there shall be no end.’ A blissful prospect! Their minds inquire—What will He be? What the form, manner, and character of his kingdom? When will be the grand consummation? The Spirit tells them—that, I do not, with perfect distinctness, reveal. Go, search, inquire. It is the will of God that you try to discover the time, and the manner of the coming of the Messiah. Be diligent. But I shall not tell you. It is a mystery for you to work at, and attempt to solve. The sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow, must be a mystery till the glorious day appears. I will give you opportunity, will throw around you certain indications. You will be liable to mistake; but search, exercise your powers. In this state, God kept the ancient prophets. What did those sublime prophecies mean? The Spirit was stirring up their souls to pour fourth great predictions—glorious scenes were passing before their view. What do they mean? And when are they to be? God tells them—Let your minds range the fields of glory. Go, rapt in vision, through the regions of celestial blessedness. Put your minds to the utmost stretch. The best I can do, is to let you work at the problem, and you may know, for your own consolation, that the angels are engaged in the work too.

(4.) Our particular relation to the Bible, the form in which it is given to us, is a fact under our principle. We look at it. It is written in two dead languages. How mysterious! Why not given to us in the English language, and to every nation in their own tongue? No, it is given in dead languages and we have no inspired interpreters. There are allusions to ancient usages, moreover, which we cannot know nor comprehend form the Bible alone; yet we must understand these usages, or we cannot get the beauty of our Bible. Then there is much that is symbolical, and the symbols are very partially, or not at all explained. It also contains the history of two dispensations, differing in their ordinances and circumstances. It was written too by a great number of men, of every variety of mental organization and temperament, in every kind of circumstances, in different ages and countries. We come to the Bible in these circumstances. And blessed be God, we find a highway cast up through its whole extent. A man who is honest-hearted, and seeks the Divine illumination, walks through, and contemplates with ecstacy, the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of Divine love. The path to him, is sure. There is no danger whatever, of his missing heaven. But if we would have an enlarged understanding of the Bible, we must dive into the dead languages, we must wade through volumes of ancient history, and draw forth the customs to which the Bible alludes. Then there are the symbolical representations. We are compelled to ponder the symbols, and, perhaps, give up at last, and acknowledge our labor well nigh in vain. Now in all this can we have the Spirit? To lead us in the King’s highway, we can have it. But to work out all this other knowledge, God will give his Spirit, to the extent we need his illumination, but not to teach us infallibly. He gives the promise of ‘perfect peace to the mind which will stay itself on Him.’ It shall be sensible of glory infinite in the Bible. To all such it shall be a broad river of life. But the problems—they are left to us to solve if we can.

(5.) The particular doctrines of the Bible also furnish appropriate illustrations of the truth of my position. For instance, the doctrine of the Atonement.

How plain it is from the sacred volume, that Christ died to atone for our sins, and that by faith in his blood, and repentance, and forsaking our sins, we may be freely forgiven all our transgressions. Every mind can find that out from the Bible. No one need mistake, and no honest mind does mistake here. The fact of reconciliation and forgiveness, on repentance and faith, lies out as in the clear sunlight. And that is all that is necessary to our perfect peace and highest blessedness. So much is taught with infallible certainty. ‘Believe and thou shalt be saved,’ is adapted to even the lowest comprehension. But, when the question is asked—How does the death of Christ make Atonement for sin, and open the way for reconciliation? Here we are met with differing opinions. Edwards, the younger, said, “I have been engaged for many years in studying that question. It is the Gordian knot in Theology.” He had tried at the solution. Good men for eighteen hundred years have exerted their utmost power, with attempts but partially successful, to untie this Gordian knot. Why was it not revealed at once in a clear and well digested scheme of divinity? Because all knowledge indispensable being revealed, that practical view of the Atonement which is essential to sanctification, being given without a liability to mistake, with the aid of the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven; it is better, that the mind should use, while it could never exhaust its power, in unfolding the mysteries of Jehovah’s government, and the deep principles of his administration. It is better that the mind should mature its strength by grappling with the tremendous problems, and trying to elaborate the sublime demonstrations from the great universe of truth, as it passes in solemn grandeur before our astonished gaze. Here our faculties are aroused to their utmost stretch, in attempts repeated again, and again, and yet again, and ever partially unsuccessful to comprehend the glories of the infinite Law-giver and King.

Every great doctrine of our holy religion would furnish a similar illustration. The child can know all that is essential to forgiveness and sanctification, and perfect and perpetual blessedness. But it is needful that we grow, and for this we must toil and labor, and for this, these great problems are thrown upon us, to task our utmost powers, and draw out the inborn capabilities of our being. I have now said enough to show the true relation we sustain to the Bible, the object of the Spirit’s teaching, the department of his infallible guidance, and the department in which we are left to a great extent, to our own labor, to solve for ourselves.

 

REMARKS

 

1. This subject lays open to us the real difference between honest inquirers. It is important to know in what department of inquiry honest minds differ. Now in every thing pertaining to salvation and blessedness, in the perception of the rule of duty, and the apprehension of the glory of God, in his works and his word, they do not differ. All agree here. These things the Holy Spirit has taught to all God’s spiritual children with infallible certainty. But step out of this field into a region in which men are left to study and conclude for themselves with a liability to error, and there you find good men differ widely. There they are, trying to get at the truth, and God looks down upon them, as a parent does upon his child when he is attempting to do something which he is unacquainted with, not in anger but in love. Does the parent because of the mistakes of his child, apply the chastening rod? No, surely. The child tries and tries, does the best he can, and fails, and tries again. The parent looks on with complacency, and says—“That is well my son. You are not quite right, but try again. You will see how by-and-by. By-and-by, you will be able to use your limbs with skill. I shall not take your tools and do the work for you; for I wish your arms to be strong, and your head to possess skill.” One child works on one plan, and another on a different one. The parent says, “Go on. Let each see how the other does; and improve as fast as you can: I will instruct you as much as it is wise for me to do; but it is best for you to exercise your own powers.” So with our heavenly Father. He leaves good men to differ in those great problems of the gospel, which lie within the field of human research, and without the department of knowledge indispensable to holiness and happiness. Each one brings up his view. They differ much—most likely are all, at least partially, if not wholly wrong. But they never differ on the things indispensable to joy in God and perfect salvation. Why does God permit them thus to differ? Not because differences are not an evil in themselves; but because the system in which there shall be the necessity of mental exertion, and of course, an incidental liability to error, is incalculably better on the whole, than that in which there should be perfect infallibility, and so no increase, no growth, and advance in knowledge and bliss. God leaves men to search, lets them seek diligently, indicates the truth so far as he can, and yet leaves the mind to labor with all its might.

2. We learn the uses of such errors in judgment, to good men, together with a consciousness of their own fallibility. The Bible says ‘All things work together for good, to them that love God.’ I will express an opinion warranted by this passage, that the errors of good men work their good. You may think that mysterious, but I believe it, and these are my reasons:

(1.) It affords continual opportunity for the exercise of candor in re-examining opinions, and humility in confessing and retracting errors. A mind launches out into the ocean of inquiry, and after sounding and sounding, after a long and careful search, forms and expresses of opinion. This opinion is met and rebutted. He sets to it again, searches, and studies, and casts his plummet, and finds something wrong. He acknowledges his error, takes to pieces his whole system, constructed with so much labor and pains-taking, removes the mischievous portion, re-examines the whole range of the subject, and re-constructs his system, or waits with it unfinished, till more complete knowledge shall enable him to go on and perfect it, with less likelihood of being again obliged to demolish and build his fabric anew. Is all this an evil? No, the labor is good; and a greater good than all the rest, is the candor continually exercised through the whole, in weighing opposing evidence and giving up dearly cherished opinions, and the humility in acknowledging errors and retracting them.

(2.) It presents a test of the spirit of charity and brotherly love. I have set myself at work, and have found, as I suppose, some truth. My brother has been digging in the same field, and has brought upon what he reckons as truth, according to his standard of judgment. Yet his conclusion is exceedingly different from mine. Now how am I to act? What does God here present me an opportunity of doing? This is a voice to me to exercise brotherly love. And now let my spirit be so full of Christian charity as to step at once over all our differences, come directly to my brother, and salute him cheerfully, take him by the hand, and from my heart say, “My brother still.” Will not that be well? And is God in fault for giving me an occasion to exercise, and thus to cherish and cultivate Christian kindness? I come to him who differs totally from myself, in a point where the judgment is left fallible, and I say from my heart, “my brother.” Yes, brother is the blessed word—and is not that well? Herein we have a strong test of love in the heart, and if you exercise charity herein, your position is on of the most favorable possible for growth in grace and virtue. It would not be wise for God to take away from us these opportunities of showing and strengthening Christian love.

(3.) It tests candor in listening to another’s opinion. “Brother, have you been into that field?” “Yes.” “What did you find?” “Such and such things.” “But my conclusions are totally different.” “How so?” “What were your reasons?” “Such and such were my reasons.” “But to my mind it appears so, and these are my grounds.” What an opportunity is here for candor in listening, and calm and dispassionate weighing of the arguments of others. But without differences of opinion, and so without liability thereto, and therefore without a department wherein men shall be left to their own judgment, no such opportunity would be presented. Would it be well, would it be wise in God, to relieve us from the exercise of such Christian virtue? It would not be wise; for God has thrown us into exactly that position. Perhaps in comparing views, we shall find that we are both wrong. Well, we try it over, and when we think we have really found the right, again we compare, again we detect error, and again we go back to our investigation, with a most useful lesson, to be cautious in forming opinions, to be certain of the ground we stand upon, and to be disposed to weigh well the opinion of a brother. Would it be wise for our Heavenly Father to relieve us form this, to take from us all possibility of learning such lessons? No. It is best that the children should use their own limbs, though at the danger of falling, and falling on the stones even, sometime. It is best that the Spirit should teach infallibly, only in certain cases, and leave us in others, to labor and grow. If we die without having solved our problems—no matter. Growth is still secured, which is the most important object after sanctification. Moreover:

(4.) The influence on ourselves will be great, and it will be good too, inasmuch as it will lead us to great care in re-examining our own opinions—going over them, and over them, with earnest study. The very exercise itself is good, and it produces too, great diligence, earnestness, and candor, in examining the opinions of other men.

(5.) Another important benefit which we should never forget, is this: In tracing any error in an honest mind to its origin, we shall, in the search, find somewhere a glorious truth, to which the error has clung, but upon which truth in reality, the mind leaned. In this way, the most important discoveries are often made. This shows the infinite wisdom and benevolence of God’s plan, in fitting mind for eternity.

3. We see the departments in which we should, and should not, hold our opinions open to re-examination, with the apprehension of finding them false. There are certain convictions which I never expect to find false, and which I never go over with the thought, that after all, they may be untenable. Suppose a man, in the language of the transcendental philosophy, should tell me—“you do not exist, you are a mere phenomenon, or if you do exist, you do not and cannot know it.” Shall I search diligently to find out whether after all, I may be nought but shadow, “mere appearance,” an “airy nothing, without a local habitation or name?” I never examine that question with the least expectation of finding my conviction false. I can not doubt it, do what I will, and no man, whatever his theory may be, ever could, or ever did doubt it.

Suppose a man declares there is no real world. I seem to be in a world, in time, and space. He tells me there are no such realities as the world, and time, and space, or that if they are realities, it is out of my power to know they are such? Shall I set about a search here, with an apprehension of finding my perceptions and apprehensions false? I should be an infinite fool to do any such thing.

A man tells me that to eat and drink are great evils, to “think is one of the curses of the fall,” and the less men know the better. Am I to sit down and examine the point? No. Suppose he says, “There is no God.” “You have no Savior.” “You are not complete in Christ.” Shall I reckon upon my fallibility in such things? No, indeed. Firm as the immovable rocks of the everlasting mountains, my soul rests, and shall forever rest upon these beliefs. For in the inmost depth of my being, I know they are eternal truth.

But I have numberless opinions in theology, in metaphysics, in all the departments of fallible research, which I hold open to re-examination, and to a new decision whenever more light shall appear. You wish to examine these things with me. Yes, freely. Here I expect to find error more or less. I examine constantly, supposing there may be mistake. When I go into the region where the Spirit leaves me to solve the great problems of the universe, then I examine and re-examine. In the field of the partial, the obscure, and the fallible, in the region where cloud, and mist, and twilight dwell, I reckon on being mistaken. But beneath the glorious bright sky, from which blazes perfect and perpetual day, never.

4. Here let me notice the meaning of that text, ‘If any man thinketh he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.’ This was said with respect to the philosophers and philosophies of that age. They thought themselves wise. They had found the truth. They had infallible knowledge in their department of research. The true meaning of the passage is this: If any man thinks he has found a system of things, all of which is true, and no part false, he is not only mistaken, but knows nothing as he ought of the true relation which he bears to things around him. If a man should boast that he had framed a perfect system of Divinity, with nought irrelevant or false therein, Paul would say—you know nothing at all of the nature of religious truth, as you ought to know. You have no idea of the relation of the mind to the field of knowledge. You know nothing as you ought to know.

Before proceeding in the remarks which were commenced in the last number, it may be well to re-state the principle which I have endeavored to illustrate and establish.

On all subjects necessary to salvation, to our highest usefulness, holiness, and peace, we can have absolutely infallible guidance. On all other subjects great problems are thrown upon our minds, which we are required to attempt to solve, without the promise of such infallible guidance.

Having illustrated and established this principle, these remarks claimed the attention of the reader, to wit: The real differences between honest inquirers after truth—the uses, to good men, of the errors in judgment, into which they fall, together with a consciousness of their own fallibility—and the meaning of the passage, “If any man thinketh that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” We now proceed to further reflections, arising from the train of thought thus far pursued.

5. We now have a correct principle to guide us in the interpretation of the promises of the Bible, in respect to divine teaching. For example, ‘He [the Spirit,] shall guide you into all truth.’ ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God—and it shall be given him.’ The question is, shall such promises be understood in an unlimited, or restricted sense? And if in the last sense, what is the true principle to be applied in their interpretation?

A man commences the study of Astronomy. Here certainly is truth, glorious truth. What if, in view of the promise ‘He shall guide into all truth,’ he should avow the expectation of being guided by the Spirit to a complete knowledge of that science in its most perfect form! What if he should take upon himself to denounce all who should question the truth of his theory thus formed, as “having not the Spirit!”

Take another case. Dr. Scott affirms, that in writing his commentary, he never attempted the interpretation of a single passage of Scripture, without an earnest and special prayer for divine illumination. What if he, on the ground that wisdom is promised to those who ask, and he had asked it, because the Spirit is promised to ‘guide us into all truth,’ and he had sought its illumination, should claim to be an infallible interpreter. Who would grant that claim? If such promises authorise him to set up such a claim, they authorise every other man to set up a claim to absolute omniscience. For omniscience only embraces all truth, according to the literal meaning of the phrase.

What then is the true principle to be applied in the interpretation of such promises? What degree of knowledge and illumination do they proffer to our faith? All of every kind and degree necessary to our highest holiness and peace. Thus far are we are to expect a cloudless vision of truth, the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God.

Perhaps some one may be inclined to think that I have here abandoned the principle, which I have, on other occasions maintained, in respect to similar promises pertaining to sanctification. These, I have maintained, ought to be taken in their literal, unrestricted sense. I answer, I have always maintained that such promises, whatever they proffer to our faith, ought to be understood as proffering all, the possession of which would be, in our condition, good, and the highest good. Promises pertaining to holiness, ought to be understood in the most unrestrained sense; because perfect holiness is known to be a good, and the highest good; any thing less, being an evil. But infallible divine teaching on all subjects, is not, as we have seen, best adapted to our highest holiness and blessedness; that is, to our highest good. Promises therefore, pertaining to divine teaching, should not be understood as proffering infallible guidance on all subjects. They should be understood according to the principles above laid down.

6. We see how far error may, and how far it may not consist with an honest heart. No honest man can read the Bible and mistake the way of life therein revealed. If he comes to the Bible with an ingenuous mind, and a child-like, trustful soul, he has the infallible promise of Christ, that he shall be taught of God his duty, and shall be blest with joy in the Holy Ghost. But when he attempts to solve the great problems in the formation of systems of truth which are laid upon him, he may err, and his error consist with a heart perfectly honest.

Apply this to on subject, to wit: the Second Advent. That is by no means a new question. Good men have labored in its investigation for ages. Ever since the times of the Old Testament, have they been at work at is solution. Mark now the points of agreement and of difference between them. In times of old, the prophets, for illustration, were instructed by the Spirit in the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Go and ask them. Is there not ahead a glorious consummation? Yes, they answer with united voice. Is not a Savior to appear? Yes. Here all agree. But ask them further—What sort of a personage is He to be? What is to be the time and manner of his kingdom? One would say—I do not know exactly, but I think thus and thus. Another, I think thus. They all concur in one thing, the glorious consummation ahead. Herein is a perfect agreement. That it was necessary for them to know, and only that was necessary to their blessedness and usefulness. The time, and manner of the coming, and the nature of the glory, they were left to think of and study upon, with desire the most ardent. But here they were left without infallible guidance, and consequently liable to error. Here they might disagree among themselves and all be equally honest and upright before God.

So in regard to the future glories of Zion, and the Second Advent of Christ. Among holy men in all ages, there has been a perfect union in one thing—a glorious consummation in prospect. All have agreed, and all do now agree in that. Ask any Christian and he will reply—“It is surely coming.” Yes,

 

“Jesus shall reign where’er the Sun

Does his successive journey’s run,

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

 

But what is to be the form of the kingdom? One replies—I have studied and searched, and I believe from the precious oracles, that Christ is just ready to come in his glorious bodily presence, raise the righteous dead, destroy the wicked from Christendom, make Jerusalem his capital, the world his empire, and his saints his associates in dominion, while the mass of heathen nations are to be converted to God.

No, says his friend, our glorious Lord is on the eve of setting up his glorious eternal kingdom; the day is upon us; He comes this very year, sweeps off the ungodly, the meek inherit the earth, probation ends forever, and the King, the Incarnate Son, makes the Sun ashamed, and the Moon blush, by the brightness of his reign, to be consummated in that hour when

 

“From the third heaven where God resides,

That holy, happy place,

The New Jerusalem comes down,

Adorned with shining grace.”

 

And yet another answer. The blessed scheme of redemption has yet to advance, and prevail, till, by the power of the Gospel of Peace, together with the descent of impending judgments upon the incorrigible, the tyrants of the earth are subdued, and by conversion to holiness, the great mass of the nations return to God. Thus the lengthened probation shall result in a state of perfect and most ecstatic blessedness, when the inhabitants of the earth ‘shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace—the mountains and the hills shall break forth into signing, when the desert shall blossom as the rose, and the wilderness as the garden of God.’

Now why must there be this conflict of views? Why has not Christ revealed, with a distinctness which leaves no ground for difference of opinion, the time and the manner of his kingdom? Because it is just as beneficial for us to search and labor, to look forward and anticipate the opening prospect, to desire and hope, and image forth, feebly indeed, but with ever growing strength, the ever inconceivable glories of the reign of righteousness, as it was for the ancient prophets to have their souls stirred from their foundations, in searching after an insight into the mysterious of the victorious grace. And hence, we are left just as they were. We agree in regard to the second, where they agreed in regard to the first advent—in the grand result, in the glory to follow. We differ where they might differ—in the things which we, like them, are left to search out. Disagreement in us, no more implies dishonesty of heart, than it did in them. And now let me state,

7. What in my judgment, is the grand error of our brethren who believe in the Second Advent near. I mention it not on their account merely, but because a similar error on other subjects is becoming prevalent at the present time. What is the error? It is not the error in opinion, if it be such, as to the Second Advent itself. They may be in error here, and I doubt not but they are; but therein does not lie their great error. It is this. In respect to a system about which honest minds have had, and may have, and be hones still, various and opposite opinions, they profess to be taught infallibly. They profess to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost in such a way that they cannot be mistaken. They have the witness of the Spirit that their form is the true form. And then they condemn those who do not come to a like conclusion with themselves. Because we think differently, we must be dishonest.

On this point I have been agonized exceedingly. It has been the prayer of my soul, and my urgent entreaty to God and my brethren, that our hearts might not be divided by our honest differences. Last summer, before I had heard that Bro. Fitch had preached his notable sermon ‘Come out from Babylon,’ making a final dissent from Second Advent views a certain indication of reprobation, (I speak this in deep sorrow,) I went to Cleveland with no other object than to try and keep strong the tie of love between our hearts. I wished to see if he had got beyond the point where he could say, you may be honest though you differ from me. But alas, he said, “No, if you were honest, you would believe as I do.” No, we were not honest. This, brethren, this is the evil, the infinite evil. It sunders the hearts of the children of our common Father. It mangles and lacerates the body of our blessed Redeemer. This is the evil Bro. Fitch is doing to his own soul, and the evil he is doing to the churches of Christ. What right has he to condemn his brethren, simply because they differ from him on such a question as this?—brethren, who in the sight of God, may, for aught he knows, be as honest and earnest inquirers after the truth as himself. The problem has been thrown upon both of us. The fact of the great consummation, the fact of the ineffable glory to follow, the Spirit has unequivocally revealed, and in that we agree. With regard to when and how, we come to different conclusions—upon these points we may err and be honest still. Religion would be honored even through our differences, if our brethren would not take the ground that they cannot be mistaken, and that all others are dishonest. Their hearts, but for that, might have mingled and flowed with ours in blessed union, and our differences would have given visibility to that union before the world.

8. We are now prepared to understand the true doctrine of the ‘Witness of the Spirit.’ This subject is thus presented in the Bible, ‘Before his translations, he had this testimony, that he pleased God.’ ‘For the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.’ When an individual professes the ‘witness of the Spirit,’ in respect to any subject so indispensable to his holiness and peace as this—conscious acceptance with God, his profession is altogether credible, a profession which all are bound to make in truth. But suppose that he professes the ‘witness of the Spirit’ to the truth of his exposition of the ‘days’ of Daniel and John, of the ‘beasts’ and ‘horns’ and other symbols of prophecy, of the time and manner of the Second Advent of Christ, indeed, of his own peculiar view of any one doctrine, or system of doctrines of the Bible—views in which he differs from his brethren. I no more believe him, than I would, if he should profess the ‘witness of the Spirit’ to his own omniscience. He has no more authority form the Bible for such a profession in the one case than in the other.

9. I notice a grand, and I may add, an almost universal error of the Church; an error in which she cannot be morally innocent. She can, to almost any extent, ‘bear them that are evil,’ morally evil; while she cannot endure a difference of opinion, even in those obscure regions of thought and inquiry, where she acknowledges men may be perfectly honest and yet fallible. Who does not know that a man may indulge in pride, luxury, covetousness, and worldly-mindedness, that he may ‘grind the faces of the poor,’ take from immortal minds the ‘key of knowledge,’ and traffic in ‘the bodies and souls of men,’ and yet sleep unreproved upon the bosom of the Church. But let an individual, with a heart as honest as Paul’s, and acknowledged to be so, range, in search for truth, just beyond the line of rigid orthodoxy, and there profess to have found some priceless jewel; what is his reputation now worth? How totally opposite this is, to the entire spirit of the gospel as set forth in the Bible. There we are required ‘by all means to rebuke our neighbor, and not to suffer SIN upon him;’ while we are required with equal positiveness, never to separate from a brother, not to love him less, nor in the least to contract our fellowship with him, on account of sentiments, the belief of which does not imply a dishonest, unsanctified heart. What a melancholy spectacle do religious controversies almost every where present. How commonly do they degenerate into bitter personalities.

10. I will here express an opinion, which the reader is requested to ponder with solemn interest. He, of almost all others, has made the highest attainments in holiness, he most perfectly represents the spirit of the gospel, who can differ with a brother on all subjects not essential to salvation, discuss such differences with earnestness, reprobate his errors, and yet maintain his confidence in him as an honest, and his love for him as a holy man undiminished. A revival of this spirit in the Church will be a revival of religion, ‘pure and undefiled before God.’

11. We have in the light of this subject, an explanation of the following important passage of Scripture, ‘Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block, or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.’ Every individual transgresses this precept, who imputes to a brother dishonesty, or a destitution of the Spirit of Christ, simply on the ground of a difference of opinion, where the infallible teachings of the Spirit are not promised, and consequently where we are left liable to error. Let any one carefully study the context, and he will see that this is the true exposition of the passage. In my judgment, there never was a time when this precept needed to be urged with greater frequency and earnestness, than at the present. While on the one hand, there is in the Church a very wide spread, and most lamentable spirit of tolerance in respect to almost every form of moral evil, there is on the other, even in the great and glorious reforms, which God, I doubt not is urging forward, a peril, infinitely great, of the infusion of a spirit of dark fanaticism, a spirit of bitter denunciation on the ground of honest differences of opinion, in regard to the form which such movements shall assume. One man adopts one form. He sticks down his stake and proclaims, who comes not here, cannot be an honest inquirer after truth. From this assumption the bitter waters of fanaticism rush out, more desolating in their progress, than rivers of liquid lava from the bowels of the volcano. How ridiculous, as well as wicked, is such an assumption that all the honest integrity of earth is embodied in the breast of the meager few, that are clustered around this one standard.

And now, brethren, how shall it be with us? When a question comes up, will you stick your stake and say, every honest mind will come to that? I tell you every honest mind will not come to that; and if you lift your spear and shoot your darts, you will pierce the heart of a brother. That is not the spirit of truth. No. As lovers of truth, let us search and dig, each one in the fear of God. Let us be satisfied with our brother, that we see him laboring earnestly and honestly, to know what is right and according to the truth; let us be satisfied with that, and cheer him on in God’s name.

Instance, the principles of Christian Retrenchment. We are all agreed in this, that ‘all shall be done to the glory of God,’ that every thing shall be made a subject of prayer, and that we shall follow the best light we can obtain. All agree here. But while we agree in this, the great, universal, all-comprehending rule of duty revealed in the infallible word, I shall not promise this brother or that, to agree with him in every form of his to exemplify that rule. I shall take the liberty of searching for myself, and coming to my own conclusion, and walking in the fear of God, as HE shall give me light and strength. With all my soul I shall strive to find the best form, and I shall not smite my brother, because he adopts a different one. If you smite me, I shall not return the blow. I shall say, perhaps, perhaps you have struck a brother—a man as honest as yourself. Perhaps you have thrust your foeman’s spear through a comrade’s heart—but God forbid that I should return the cruel blow. No, be my prayer to God, to teach his children not to ‘bite and devour each other.’ If you cannot be contented with me, I can nevertheless be contented with you. While you are honest and inquiring, I will work with you, be satisfied with you, and call you brother. But Christian friend, if I, if any man fails to satisfy you, because he thinks your form is not quite the best, and you separate from me, from him, therefor, remember my words this day, the fault is yours, the responsibility is yours. It is your hand that cuts the bond of union that the Savior has woven to unite our souls in blissful concord. And while you sever the bond, I can shake my garments and say I am clear; and when you cast me from your heart, I can look up to my Heavenly Father’s throne, and know that in his heart I still have a place, and can pillow my heard in delightful rest upon his paternal bosom.

But you say, we can all be taught. Yes we can. But there are great problems left for us to solve in all the reforms. And I shall not despise and denounce a brother because he says of my plan—It is not the best. I will examine his scheme; adopt it, if it is better than mine, and if I think it is not, I will take my own and love him still.

This is the aim of my soul—to have this community, to have the whole Church ‘cry after knowledge, and lift up her voice for understanding.’ I long for a union in this, this greatest good of mind, a spirit of inquiry, deeply searching and deeply honest, under which the mind may grow and be developed, and become perfect in the love and knowledge of God and his kingdom.

12. The account which God will ask us to render at his judgment seat. He will not ask me if I was infallible on earth. No. He sent me here to solve great problems; He knew they were deep, and intricate, and far-reaching; He knew my powers were weak and infant-like; He did not expect me to dive to the deep foundations of eternity, to soar to the heights of the Infinite Intelligence. But He threw them before me in all their solemn import, to let me try my strength upon them, and thus develop and mature my nature. But He will ask me, had you an honest heart? Did you toil to get up the hill Difficulty? Did you climb and struggle to gain the summit? Were you open to conviction to receive the light on all subjects? If I can answer yes, He will reply ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’ I have no fear to meet my Lord in such a state of mind. Though I should be mistaken as to the time and manner of his coming, yet let Him say that I am honest-hearted, and I can hail Him with joy, be his coming how and when it may.

Here is the citadel of the soul. Here is the bulwark to be defended. Upon this salvation turns. It is more important to be honest, than to be exactly correct in our opinions, in all respects—to be honest inquirers, than to know the exact forms of truth not essential to salvation.

13. I notice also a very common mistake in respect to a state of perfect moral purity. Very many seem to attach to such a state, the idea of infallibility in judgment. An influential brother in the ministry, thought he had discovered a wrong exposition of a single passage of Scripture, in a work on entire holiness in this life. He immediately wrote us a very kind but earnest letter, saying that if we expected him to believe our doctrine, we must not be detected in such an error as that. He had practically adopted the idea, that perfect moral purity, and infallibility in the interpretations of the Bible, are inseparable. For myself, I have no such conception of that state. I have no idea that He who ‘charges his angels with folly,’ without imputing sin to them, requires, as a condition of perfect moral purity, infallibility in his children on earth. No, error in judgment on subjects not fundamental, not falling within the range of the infallible teachings of the Spirit, is perfectly compatible with a heart as pure as heaven itself.

14. From the whole view presented, we learn how to regard differences of opinion between good men. Individuals often say to me, Bro. Mahan, the difference between you and Bro. Fitch, has stumbled many minds exceedingly. They have read your experiences, you have both drank from the same fountain, your eyes have together looked within the veil upon the glories of the inner temple, and yet you differ. They are stumbled at you. I ask myself the question—have they stumbled that they should fall? I trust not. Great good, in the estimation of the brethren who are now stumbled, will yet, I doubt not, come out of these differences. They will, among other things, see clearly a truth with which they greatly needed to be impressed—that holiness of heart does not imply infallibility of judgment on all religious subjects.

But where do Brother Fitch and myself differ? On the glorious truths of Sanctification? Not at all. On the glories to be revealed, the fact of the grand consummation? No. Where then? Just in reference to the problems which God has thrown upon us and told us to endeavor to solve with our own powers. Just where honest minds may differ, we differ. Now are we to be embarrassed by this? No. We should expect to differ on such points more or less. And brethren, I believe God has permitted these great differences to spring up between very friends, to bring into a strong light, duty on this subject, to bring out the true spirit to be cherished. I believe also, that He has permitted unwarrantable claims to the Spirit’s teaching to be made, to set minds at work to draw forth to the light, the grand line between divine, infallible teaching, and human fallible research. Moreover,

15. We see where fanaticism always begins. Trace it in all its forms to its origin, and this is its universal source. In reference to problems which God has thrown upon ourselves, men profess to be taught infallibly of God. They insist “God has taught me that.” All the forms of fanaticism go back, in their beginning, to just that. The antinomian perfectionists set aside the Bible. To them, it is of no more use, they fancy, than an old almanac. And why? They have the Spirit. They need not the Bible. And they will boast they have not looked into the Bible for years. They have the Spirit. They claim infallible teaching in every department of research.

Trace it in another development. A man sits down to study a particular question. He says to himself, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.’ I lack wisdom. I ask to be taught. I desire it heartily. I shall have the Spirit to guide me infallibly.” And when he makes up his mind, he says, “I am taught of God.” And now mark his future course. Having come to his conclusion, under what he reckons the light of the Holy Spirit, the first inference is, I cannot be wrong. He never, therefore, re-examines his position, and when he meets an argument totally subversive of his scheme, what does he do? Rejects the light, and holds fast to his delusion. This is his first great departure. Then he meets an honest mind who has come to a different conclusion. He lifts his spear, and thrusts through a servant of the King. “If you were honest, you would believe as I do.” And then—what next? Is he actuated by love and candor? Can you reason with him? You may as well reason with the wind, and ply your proofs upon the whirlwind. He becomes the dark fanatic, and while the spell is on him, no influences of reason can reach him, but onward he goes, under the rod of his tyrant, till perhaps—and alas that it is only perhaps—in a favored hour, the enchantment is broken, and reason regains her throne.

It is here, I repeat, from a claim to infallible teaching where God has left us fallible, that the bitter waters of fanaticism burst forth to poison the earth. My brethren, avoid them, avoid them. When the notion of infallibility gets possession, you are at the mercy of Satan. I knew such a man, a man of liberal education. He renounced his reason, said it was one of the curses of the fall, and pretended the Spirit taught him on all subjects. In religions, as Bro. Finney observed this morning, he became almost an idiot. I shall never forget his silly, idiotic laugh, as he exclaimed to me, “Oh I never understood the Old Testament before. I never knew why Jacob had two wives, and why he was necessitated to marry the elder, before he did the younger. A man must be married to the law before he is to the gospel. Leah had weak eyes. A man under the law cannot see plain.” Where is that mind? It was once a star. Now it is a cloud of darkness. Do you wonder that he afterwards came to the grave conclusion that himself, and wife, and one other individual were the only three saints on earth. All others differed from them. All others, therefore, were carnal, ‘having not the Spirit.’ Hence, with spiritual idiocy, was united a spirit of dark and bitter fanaticism.

16. Notice the great temptation to which those who have been taught much of the Spirit are liable. Satan, it should be remembered, shapes his temptations to the state of mind in which he finds the subjects of his attacks. To one, therefore, who has enjoyed much of the Spirit’s teachings, he will say, “It is time for you to teach theology. Other ministers know nothing. You have the Spirit. You therefore, ‘know all things.’”[1] The woman of whom Prof. Finney spoke, was for many years, an astonishment to all who knew her. She was taught of God, indeed. But by and by she must be a teacher in theology. She had become a theologian. She wrote to me, not to urge me onward to higher attainments in holiness, but to correct my errors in theology. I saw, at once, that she had fallen into a snare of the devil. She had, in her own estimation, “become wiser than seven men that can render a reason.” She came to Buffalo, and afterwards, was sent to Boston to teach Christians there. What was her spirit? For myself, I would as soon sympathize with the spirit of any being in existence, as with hers. Question her opinions, attempt to convince her of error—she had the Spirit. She was taught of God. Deny her infallibility, and she would call you a fool. “Old Finney, Old Finney,” she would exclaim with the bitterest scorn. Where was her temptation? She had been taught much of the Spirit. The devil caught her there. “Set up for a theologian.” The temptation took, and she fell into the snare. Reader, beware of that fatal rock. All may have the Spirit without measure. But the Spirit is not given to all to render them theologians.

17. We notice the use we should make of those who have a deep and rich experience. If you wish to know how to get into those depths yourself, go to them. They can lead you, for they know the road. They are equal to that. But if you wish to get the solution of a difficult problem in theology, you will not go to them, unless they are also theologians. (From the fact that they have a deep experience it the things of the Spirit.) They may be perfectly ignorant, or entirely wrong, for example, in respect to the second advent. Their experience in the Holy Ghost, does not teach them the mysteries of philosophy, or the facts of history. A rich experience they have, and that you can get of them, and by and by that you do well to profit. And let me say here—The most perfect teacher is he who has drank the deepest at the fountain of life in the Spirit, and who has also taken the widest range among the sublime mysteries of God’s kingdom, which lie every where around us. When both are united, when one accompanies the other in a high degree, then have we a teacher indeed.

18. We may understand the meaning of that glorious passage, for it is glorious, and daily shines more and more splendidly upon my soul. I love to repeat it. That passage describing the blessedness in store for the children of Zion. ‘The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light to thee, but the Lord shall be to thee an everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.’ Into what a state has that should come which has reached that place! To bring the ‘should’ into this state is the department of the Spirit’s infallible teaching. He can bring a soul into such a relation to Christ, into such a relation to God, and to all that is finite, that whatever may happen in the universe, nought can disturb its deep rest in God. That is the idea in the passage. The individual that has attained this state, this divine illumination, has ceased to be dependent for his blessedness upon any changes in the sun or moon, upon any revolutions in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the universe around him. ‘God is his everlasting light, and the days of his mourning are ended.’ Nothing that can happen can at all ruffle the strong deep current which, flowing from the infinite heart of Jehovah, pours a full and overflowing tide of unceasing bliss into his. The sun may go out in darkness, the moon be turned to blood, the universe be wrapped in one general conflagration, and all created things pass away, and not a particle of the glory and bliss of his soul has been taken away.

That mind opens its eye upon the revelations of the infinite. Its eternal home is the bosom of God. God is seen in every thing—the darkness and the light, the visible and the invisible—God shines forth every where, as the everlasting light of the soul. Brethren, it is our privilege even now to have our home in the skies. Through the enlightening Spirit we may be led up these everlasting hills, plant our feet on those delectable mountains, and stand in ecstacy amid the revelations of eternity, while we sojourn in the vales of our native earth. Shall we be among the number who are reckoned, ‘Taught of God? O blessed, blessed, thrice blessed, is that soul who is thus taught of God. But while we may enjoy all this, let me say,

19. Finally, I believe we shall derive great advantage in eternity, from our fallible labors here at these glorious systems of truth. Men have, it seems to me, wrong views of eternity. They think it is a kind of inactive rest, a state of inglorious ease, a rest without labor. That is not my idea. The great system of truth is co-extensive with the attributes of Jehovah, and whole created intelligence remains finite, the glorious realities of the universe, and of the infinite character of its Creator, will remain objects of wondering investigation, and never wearied research. In eternity we shall have problems to solve. We shall have angels for our companions, those bright spirits who have for long centuries been prying with anxious search into the mystery of the redemption by Christ. With desire irrepressible, the glories of the Deity incarnate have inspired their angelic minds, to know the depths of the riches of infinite grace and mercy, to a fallen world. God threw it before them. What a mystery to the angels, to the universe. Angels sinned—the bold leaped out from the Eternal Throne, and they descended thundering down the regions of endless night. The justice of God drew forth hymns of adoring praise from the awe-struck myriads that people the fields of celestial light. By and by this world was ushered into being. At its birth the ‘morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ Now was to rise a race of holy beings to supply the place of those who fell. But man fell too! He fell! And angels stood aghast, and trembled, for they remembered that fearful day, when God hurled Satan and his legions from among the morning stars. There was silence in heaven’s courts. The Son of God presented Himself before the Throne, and beseechingly asked, “Shall man too go to hell?” The angles looked, and God instead of sending his bolts to strike man quick to perdition, called an angel from the silent throng, and gave him command to go down to earth, exclude the sinning pair from Eden, but show them kindness, bid them go out and people the world. The angels heard the mandate. Is God just? There was mystery! From the Throne of God, from the depth of the Trinity, one of the Persons was to proceed, and in some way atone for the sins of man. What was it? How was it to be? The Spirit was sent down, and prophets prophesied. A strain came up from Judea’s hills, ‘To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.’ Angels listened. What does it mean? Who can open the book and loose the seals? Who can solve the mystery? The prophets sang, and as the thrilling sounds vibrated on the air, methinks angels caught the strain, and it echoed from their lips across the eternal plains. It was rich and glorious. But what did it mean? What was it? As ages rolled on, they bent over the book of the holy prophet, to search the import. By and by, what was seen? From the depth of the God-head the Son went forth, and as angels looked, He lay incarnate, the babe in Bethlehem’s manger. Again from the waiting hosts was a messenger commissioned to go to earth, and tell the welcome news, ‘Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born a Savior.’ The angels heard, and as the herald flew on his joyful errand, heaven was emptied of its inhabitants, and while the wondering shepherds listened to the divine visitant, Judea’s plains and hills echoed the seraphic anthem, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.’

 

“Arch-angels leave their high abode,

To learn new mysteries here, and tell

The love of our descending God—

The glories of Immanuel.”

 

The mystery of mysteries began to be unrolled. They began to see the reason why man was spared, to comprehend how God could be just, and man forgiven. Was it not well, that the angels were left for thousands of years to search and solve that mystery? Nor is it yet exhausted. The heavenly choir, believe me, do yet oft repeat that song.

 

“Glory to God on high,

And heavenly peace on earth,

Good will to men, to angels joy,

At the Redeemer’s birth?”

 

And how do we know that great problems are not laid up for us, to be offered for our solution in the world above? As the glorious future rolls along in the ceaseless cycles of eternity, there will be enough to fasten our souls in endless, rapt attention. There will be problems which will task our utmost power in their solution. And how shall we be prepared for such a state? Be constant, honest inquirers here. Be honest men and women. Push your research. Be indefatigable, and faithful, and charitable to those who differ from you. If we cannot differ from a brother here without denouncing a curse upon his head, what shall hinder the same dark spirit from dwelling in our bosoms in eternity? And shall we carry the dreadful habit into the changeless future? I would not do it for the universe!

Who will go into this great field, throw open his heart to the infinite and boundless love of God, and enter upon the solution of the great and glorious mysteries of God’s universe? Those who will do it, shall take their place among the morning stars, and ‘shine as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.’



[1] I regret exceedingly the necessity of personal allusions which are met with in two or three instances in this discourse. Circumstances, in my judgment, full demand those allusions on the present occasion.